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Friday, December 28, 2012

The Woman who Could Not Swallow




Daniel introduced her as 'Baroness Cathleen de Varennes', not as 'my wife Cathleen'.

"Well, where do we go?" she demanded, nervously.

"Do you want breakfast? You must be starved. Perhaps you are tired and want to see your bedroom." I led her, with Daniel, down the hall.

I had been told she was a young woman, but she looked ancient. The bones of her skull loomed beneath a sickly parchment.

Daniel threw her bag at the foot of the bed, then headed back to the drawing room to use the phone. They were supposed to go to a party later. The Baroness kept talking.

"I can't swallow. The last time I actually swallowed a piece of food was in 1979. Solid food doesn't go down. My esophagus is almost closed shut."

I stood there.

"It is equally very difficult for me to swallow liquids. That's why I like them hot. Very, very hot. And sweet. You can put the entire box of sugar in my coffee if you like. It helps it to go down. Of course if I have liquids too hot, too often, that's not good either. It cooks my throat, or can start a cancer.

"The muscle to my stomach is, how do you say, lame? It can't close. The juices from my stomach come up and starts all sorts of problems.

"I don't mind talking about all this. If I had a lame leg I would knock on it and comment on how well it is carved. It is no problem for me. Yes, I lost quite a bit of weight. I was eating ice cream and sugar and butter in an effort to keep my weight up but eventually my stomach wouldn't process it anymore and my heartbeat became slow with all the cholesterol."

The Baroness' hair lies in patchy strands on a bald scalp. The giveaways are the long strands which she has so carefully curled over her temples. There are no curves to her, though it is possible to see that she was once very attractive. Her front teeth seem at first so perfect, until one notices they are exactly alike, the same color and shape, gums all of a piece. Alas, all are false.

Daniel is a young man. I know him to be the same age as Bailey, though he has put on a lot of weight. I asked him about work.

"Well, I haven't been indicted," he said, referring to the recent crackdowns on investment bankers for insider trading.

"Those SEC boys are damn clever. The crooks get away by spilling  beans on the others. The accomplices, those that provide information, have the book thrown at them. It's awful."

I wondered if Daniel saw himself as an accomplice or a crook. He's a survivor, he married the Baroness. How long before he was alone with her title, and family land back in Hungary.

"We have a party this evening we have to go to," Daniel lamented.

I don't know if he meant it as a chore, or something they had to do to keep up appearances, to please the Baroness. Possibly it was a gathering he anticipated, but made seem like a kind of duty..

"That little party", Bailey said, was a do, at Maxim's, the once famous Parisian restaurant. Bailey was miffed. He hadn't been invited.

I agreed, it is poor form not to invite one's host.

I didn't need to see the inside of Maxim's. I had visited the place once, paid for by a lavish Arab who was entertaining Miss India. As one of a group of late invitees. I got bored, ate, drank too much, then walked home.

The Baroness foraged in her bag, then brought out a bottle of Pálinka. A distilled product from the steppes of Hungary. "This is for Monsieur Bailey."

It had a peculiar royal crest on it, one with a bent cross at the tip. Maybe she called the bottle Slivovitz, no matter. She'll give it to Bailey. Then he'll put it on his silver tray next to the Gran Marnier and Cherry Herring.


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